In August 2023, the Kenyan government revealed that 4 out of 10 Kenyans suffered from mental illnesses and publicly admitted that the public mental health infrastructure of the country was struggling from the progressively increasing workload. The lack of a long-term vision and inadequate resourcing of mental health infrastructure continues to take a toll on Kenya’s mentally ill patients.
John Wainaina Mwangi, a Nguvu Change Leader from Nakuru County, and a survivor of severe abuse in a mental health facility has launched an online petition with a haunting personal account of the abuse he faced.
“I was locked up, whipped, and stripped. I endured solitary confinement, physical abuse, and a denial of basic human dignity in a mental healthcare facility. There was no one to speak for me when I was suffering. Now, as a mental health advocate, I am speaking up to ensure that no one faces traumatic experiences in places that are supposed to offer help and healing,” says John.
John’s experiences underscore systemic issues prevalent in Kenya’s mental healthcare system. And his petition is an attempt to expose the harsh realities within these care centres.
In December 2021, a research report published in the National Library of Medicine assessed the human rights record of a large mental hospital in Kenya, and observed 5 key gaps – 1) the buildings and infrastructure were in a state of disrepair; 2) staffing was inadequate; 3) patients had no right to legal capacity; 4) there was gross neglect of patients as well as physical and verbal abuse; 5) there were no strategies in place to support community reintegration and independent living.
According to John, the Constitution of Kenya (2010) guarantees every citizen equal access to the highest attainable health standards while section 51 of the Mental Health Act (Rev. 2012) mandates that any person within a mental hospital who harms, mistreats, abuses, or neglects patients is guilty of an offense. However, despite these legal safeguards, numerous human rights violations persist without being challenged or proper justice.
He emphasizes, “It’s time to translate these rights into tangible reforms within our mental health care system. Untreated mental health problems are a ticking timebomb. Urgent action is needed to ensure that those who need support don’t endure distress in silence due to fear and prejudice.”
John’s petition, launched through his organisation Psychosocial Development and Response Organization, urges the Kenyan Health Ministry to intervene and ensure sensitisation training for all staff in mental health facilities on human and patient rights.
He believes that stringent action to counter the kind of abuse he has suffered will encourage people to seek treatment without fear.
“Every human being deserves to feel safe while seeking help to address a mental health crisis. Ostracising such a person and abusing their trust should not be normalised especially in mental health facilities. It is time to change this narrative once and for all,” he concludes.
Petition Link: John Wainaina Mwangi: Sensitise Staff in Mental Health Facilities to End Human Rights Abuse of Patients